Sunday, September 26, 2010


A myriad of fish

What a difference it makes when the wind drops! We’ve had one big storm and a few nightly rumblings of thunder over the past few days, but after a blustery morning the wind has given us a bit of a breather for some snorkelling this afternoon.

So, with Chris’s back somewhat better, we go back to Punta di Spanu, the wild little peninsula that is locked away behind the water-sports Mecca of Sant’ Ambroggio in the Balagne. And the water in our favourite little cove is clear and calm.

Once we have finned our way past the bathers standing, splashing and chatting in the sandy shallows, we are off into deeper waters. First, the rocks appear, then the water becomes distinctly but not unpleasantly cooler and almost completely transparent.

And we are surrounded. Not by thousands but quite literally millions of little fish. They don’t appear to be going anywhere, just staying still in their myriads, taking up space and occupying the little bay completely. The visibility is set by the density of the fish; underneath, bigger fish pass by, some prowling in purposeful formations, others with completely separate directions and, presumably, different agendas. Ships that pass in the night.

Beyond the enormous shoal we can see a deeper sandy patch perhaps 6 metres down, and in the distance, some 20 metres away in the crystal clear water, a huge boulder rises from the sand, grazing the surface to give swimmers a false impression of shallowness. The sun’s rays twist round the sides of the boulder and catch tiny glistening particles in the water.

It’s a soundless paradise down there and there is hardly a ripple. I turn into a tiny, rocky inlet where the sand, weed and rocks are beach-bright in the sunshine and small rock fish dart about... I am genuinely sorry to disturb them.
We have taken our masks and snorkels to more famous and more tropical oceans than this, but nothing matches this little patch of sea for its peace, majesty and beauty.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Adventures on hold

Friday’s winds have brought our adventures to a temporary halt. What we thought of as a quick dip in the sea at Lozari turned into a swim of less than two minutes as Chris was bowled over by a particularly strong wave. She has somehow damaged her back and can scarcely move.

As usual, it happened at the beginning of the weekend when doctors and nurses leave their surgeries unattended. So we’ve been hanging round the apartment rather a lot and I have been making use of the pool here at the résidence.

Though I love snorkelling, I’m not a keen surface swimmer and have always found swimming lengths of a pool exhausting and boring. Here however, I can bear it. The views of Calvi and the Revelatta peninsula from our poolside are spectacular. In the morning the trees along the east side of the pool cast a speckly shadow over the sunbeds and one can spread out in cool comfort between dips. This morning there was a red kite wheeling overhead as I swam.

And Chris has been doing a lot of reading. To give herself a break from Barack Obama’s worthy autobiography, she’s been reading the Corse Matin women’s supplement, entitled Femina. For some reason, this week’s editorial makes a passing reference to the piratical practices of Captain Hook and we were both amused to realise that the French name for that fearsome pillager and plunderer is Capitaine Crochet...

It’s no wonder there aren’t many famous French pirates - though the word Corsair is derived from Corsica so I guess there were a few of ‘em around here.

Friday, September 24, 2010


The confrerie – a force for good in Corsica

Most visitors to Corsica and the wider Mediterranean area will remain ignorant of the work of the “confrerie” or lay brotherhoods in Corsican communities. But visit a Corsican town or village at Easter and it is quite likely that you will see a dramatic religious procession in which the brotherhoods are involved.

In these processions, penitents wearing white, black or red hoods walk through the streets singing hymns and in some instances dragging chains attached to their feet. They look strange and, frankly, a little scary with pointed hoods and just slits for eyeholes.

In my last blog I congratulated one of the brotherhoods, that of San Carlu in Monticello, for supporting a concert. But looking scary and supporting the arts are by no means all they do.

Today we went to an exhibition at the Museu di a Corsica in Corte which describes the work of the confrerie and outlines their history in the region. The brothers, rooted in the Middle Ages, are an attempt by devout but lay members of the Corsican community to create and manage an ideal society. They adhere to egalitarian principles and have written codes outlining their structures, and the rights and duties of each brotherhood’s membership. Their leaders are democratically elected.

They act as mediators, counsellors, activists, and financiers. While they are aligned with and support their local churches they act independently of them. A dramatic and very ornate spirituality becomes apparent at Easter, Good Friday, Palm Sunday and other religious festivals when they take part in and sometimes organise religious processions. They help the dying to achieve a “good death” not just in a spiritual way but by encouraging people to write wills and put their affairs in order. They will sometimes even foot the bill for funeral expenses.

The Exhibition, which started in July and runs up to 30th December 2010, is called “Les Confréries de Corse” and exhibits hundreds of documents, some 240 works of art and vestments used by the confreries in their processions and ceremonies. Intriguingly, it also places the Corsican brotherhoods in an international context which includes Spain, Italy and France.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


King Theodore and other presumptuous interlopers

We have been to another excellent concert at the Eglise St Charles in Monticello. Last time we came here it was to see a group of young music students from Paris; this time, we attended a concert of baroque music performed by staff members of the Conservatoire de Musique de Bastia.

For some strange reason, the concert was called Les voyages de Theodore. King Theodore was Corsica’s only king of any kind and his brief and embarrassing reign will shortly be documented in a book written by Julia Gasper. I await this book’s publication with interest, but what the journeys of His Presumptuous Highness have to do with this wonderful and uplifting collection of music by Telemann, Rameau, Bach, Handel and Vivaldi I can’t begin to imagine.

The concert was performed on organ, harpsichord, and ancient versions of the flute, violin and cello. I particularly enjoyed Rameau’s short piece Le Vezinet performed with great virtuosity by V. Loriaut on the harpsichord.

But the King Theodore angle remains a mystery. Another thing I couldn’t understand was the florid commentary by an unnamed male announcer which might have solved the problem. The audience of locals and holidaymakers were visibly bored as he launched into five or more minutes of arm-waving explanations and erudite pontification before and after each piece.

He didn’t explain things clearly enough for me to understand much of what he said, but I could tell from the quivering intensity of his delivery that he greatly enjoyed the experience.

Notwithstanding these last remarks, the Confrerie San Carlu of Monticello are to be congratulated for supporting this excellent and stimulating concert. How sad that there were only 25 or so of us there to enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A Corsican with an Irish accent

There’s rarely a year goes by that we don’t find ourselves at the Mata Hari restaurant in Lumio at some time or other during one of our stays.

Since we started going there some ten years ago, the prices have gone up and it is no longer possible to order a pichet of local wine: the Mata Hari has undoubtedly gone upmarket with its white linen serviettes and uniformed staff. But we are still given a sincere and dignified welcome by the proprietor - despite the fact that we never select an item from his specials board - and the food we do choose is always of excellent quality and value.

A number of the waiters remember us from one year to the next. This year, however, we were served by a waiter we hadn’t met before. Now as readers of this blog will probably know, we do try to stick to French when ordering our meals. Today was no exception, but as we were paying the bill while savouring the last few drops of our Renucci rosé, our waiter asked Chris in a familiar and beautifully modulated voice if she was Irish.

A little taken aback, she explained that my family was Irish. He had spotted her Claddagh ring (a 25th Wedding Anniversary gift bought while in Galway) and the Irish family name on our French debit card and had come to this perfectly reasonable conclusion.

Our Corsican waiter had lived in Waterford for six years and had there picked up not only the gift of the gab but a distinctly Irish vocal inflexion. Clearly a man after my own heart. On our next visit to my family’s homeland I hope we find an Irishman with a Corsican accent to balance things up.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


More stuff about fruit

Whenever we go to Corsica, I'm always conscious of the stuff I'm not doing at home and the jobs we have to before we go.

With an all-clear from the hospital following my operation, I'll be going to my favourite island with a lighter heart than I did in June, but we do have a less weighty concern on our minds now.

It mainly concerns fruit. Following a peach glut, a french bean glut, a plum glut, a courgette glut and a tomato glut in our garden here in the UK, we now have a fig glut and an apple glut to contend with. We've had courgette cake and cougette salad, beans with everything and home made tomato soup even though we've given lots away. I think Chris is giving us a peach smoothie and some plum crumble this evening and she's now talking about a compote of figs.

We can freeze some of this of course but there is only so much room in the freezer. I think a second freezer is going to become a necessity.

And the most annoying thing? After we land in Corsica's Figari Airport next Saturday, our first port of call will be to Super U in Porto Vecchio where we will have to stock up on, amongst other things ... fruit and vegetables.

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